Portrait of pain: Iraq veteran and TU track athlete Josh Butts carries reminders of war in his left heel and in his mind

By BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Published: 5/14/2009  2:30 AM
Last Modified: 5/14/2009  3:29 AM

When you’ve been fired upon by Iraqi snipers, when you’ve taken shrapnel in your foot, when you’ve tended to wounded and dead troops, and when you’ve contended with post-traumatic stress disorder, the pressure of everyday civilian life doesn’t seem like pressure at all.

“I was in charge of eight men in a combat setting, and I had to make life-or-death decisions,” says Josh Butts, a University of Tulsa senior distance runner and a former U.S. Army sergeant. “And now you come to college, and whether you have a test or a track meet, it seems grossly unimportant. You have to find a new motivation.”   Said TU track coach Steve Gulley: “What Josh experienced in the military, you can’t relate to that in Tulsa, Oklahoma. You just can’t.”

This week, the Golden Hurricane hosts the Conference USA track and field championships. Butts usually runs in cross country, 800-meter and 1,500-meter races, but at 9 p.m. Friday he will compete for the first time this year in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, which combines distance running with hurdling over barriers and water obstacles. It’s a demanding event for the healthiest of athletes, but Butts is not the healthiest of athletes.

Embedded in his left heel is a sliver of mortar shrapnel — a souvenir of his one-year stay (August 2004-August 2005) in the Anbar province of Iraq. Anbar was described by an American war correspondent as “wild and lawless.”



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